Category Archives: Mystery

“The Perfect Girl” by Gilly Macmillan

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Summer is perfect to not only catch up on your reading list, but give yourself time to stumble upon something unexpected.  My favorite part about this time of year is going to the down-town Madison Public Library (MPL) and leisurely browsing their “Too Good to Miss” section.  From best-sellers, to adaptations, to obscure picks, the dear MPL librarians never fail to maintain a revolving collection of books that includes something that will appeal to any literary appetite.  The reason why I seem to always leave the library with more books than I came to return is because the “Too Good to Miss” section lives up to its namesake.

It was at this section where I stumbled upon The Perfect Girl.  As someone who likes to brag that I read Gone Girl and Girl on the Train (by the way, what is it with thrillers using the word “girl” in their titles?) before they became super ultra best-sellers, I am always hunting for the newest thriller sensation.  My guilty pleasure are books that include: mystery, unreliable characters, murder, messed up families with secrets, and plot twists.  This title initially caught my eye with it’s dark cover and that at first glance I thought the author was Gillian Flynn (which begs the question: When will she bless us with another book?).  Then I read the back and saw it was about: mystery, unreliable characters, murder, messed up families with secrets, and plot twists.  Say no more.

With the sudden surge of books like Gone Girl, I can imagine that before long this sort of genre will become cliche and tired.  For now though, I am one of many who are hooked on this type of novel.  However, it presents a challenge to authors: it’s hard to take a troupe that sells but avoid your book being lost in the noise.  The Perfect Girl didn’t seem to get great reviews on Goodreads, but I think it is the perfect summer book.

Very short summary: Music prodigy Zoe was involved in an unfortunate accident a year ago that broke her family and sent her to juvenile detention.  Tonight she’s performing a concert with her new brother in law to try to get her life back on track.  Little does she know by the end of the night, her mother will be dead.

Dum dum dum!!

Mystery/thriller lovers will see that this book takes a lot of strategies from Gone Girl.  It is told in multiple perspectives, you aren’t sure who is a reliable character or not, there are a lot of family secrets, and everything is revealed in spurts.  The paperback version is about 430 pages, but it took me only 3 days to read.  It’s fast paced and has decent character development.  My only critiques would be that the ending is somewhat predictable, and the character Sam (a police officer) didn’t really seem necessary to the overall plot.

While we wait for Gillian Flynn (hint hint Gillian!) to crank out her new book (right now would be great!), The Perfect Girl is a satisfactory thriller that will provide you with a few days of literary entertainment.  Take it with you on a trip this summer, or as you sit by the pool.

What books are you reading this summer?  Let me know in the comments!

 

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The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson

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Where do I even begin?

I’ve read my fair share of books that scared me, scarred me, haunted me.

But until now, I had never encountered a book that managed to do all of that while also being mesmerizing and surprisingly readable.

This book is a young woman’s (Maya) confession in a police station.  All we know at the beginning is that she and many other girls were kidnapped and endured unspeakable horrors at the hands of a man referred to as “The Gardener.”  Though reluctant at first to open up to the cops, Maya slowly shares her heartbreaking account of her childhood and life as a prisoner with the other women.

Soon we learn that the gardener tattoos each woman with large butterfly wings (each woman’s unique) on their backs and refers to them as his “butterflies.”  As Maya confesses to the cops, the reader is taken with her on the same twisted, terrifying path of discovery as to what being a “butterfly” for the Gardener entails.

We know from the beginning that Maya and other women ultimately escape.  The purpose of the story and the impending climax is how Maya eventually became free and why she seems to hesitate at incriminating her captor.  As the novel builds up to this, the author develops through Maya’s account the characters of the butterflies and the gardener, giving them a raw humanity that sparks conflicting emotions.  It’s not a victim versus villain scenario.  It’s a complicated exploration of the dichotomy of the human condition.

This book with scare you, scar you, haunt you.  Its superior writing and storytelling are worth every emotion.

Have you read this book?  Let me know in the comments what you thought!

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Filed under Fiction, horror, Mystery

2014 Books: A Summary

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My failure to post for the past several months is a result of moving to Turkey and being too busy getting acclimated to my new environment and reading to write.  Though my blogging has been scarce, I have gotten more reading done in the past four months than I’ve ever had the chance to do in my life.  I love my host city in Turkey, but there’s not a lot to do so I’ve been walking a lot and have discovered the wonder of audio books.  Get exercise and read at the same time?  Why haven’t I jumped on this bandwagon before?

Anyways, it would be a ridiculously long post if I wrote a review of every book I’ve read recently.  Instead, I will group them together into categories, and share my favorite book from each.

1) Dean Koontz books

Life Expectancy

Sole Survivor

Velocity

Innocence

Strange Highways

Favorite: Life Expectancy.  It’s a classic Dean Koontz novel that contains suspense, elements of science fiction, but the characters are particularly well developed in this novel.  I thought the ending was perfect as it tied up loose ends but left the reader questioning what would happen if there was a sequel.  The book had you guessing the entire time, but Koontz revealed answers slowly in a way that keeps the reader from getting too frustrated.

2) A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin

A Storm of Swords

A Feast for Crows

A Dance with Dragons (started)

Favorite: it’s a tie because these books tend to run together and it’s been awhile ago since I’ve read them so I’ll just say that as a series, I’m hooked. I want to finish the latest book so I can look up fan theories without worrying about spoilers, but the next book won’t come out for at least another year.  Oye, the annoyance of being addicted to a series! It’s like Harry Potter all over again, but Mr. Martin is taking his sweet time.

3) Non-fiction books

Jesus Freaks (true crime book about the Family cult) by Don Lattin

Life After College (self help) by Jenny Blake

Wild (memoir/travelogue) by Cheryl Strayed

Hallucinations (science) by Oliver Sacks

The Good Nurse (true crime) by Charles Graeber

In Defense of Food (science) by Michael Pollan

The Red Queen (genetics, currently reading) by Matt Ridley

Favorite: In Defense of Food.  Michael Pollan strikes again with a well-researched book that makes you question your food culture.  I enjoyed The Omnivore’s Dilemma years ago and have watched many documentaries on the food industry in America, but this book offered a fresh look at the issues in the US.  What I like best about Pollan’s writing is that he bases his arguments on facts and research, not his hidden political agenda. In science writing, it’s easy to pick out certain studies and use them to promote veganism or animal rights, etc, but Pollan is clearly interested in the food industry because he is inspired by the science behind it, not the social issues (although his research leads to social issues that are easily ignored).

4) Books related to Turkey that I read right before coming, or during orientation

The Yogurt Man Cometh by Kevin Revolinski

Tulipomania by Mike Dash

An Ongoing Affair: Turkey and I by Heath W. Lowry

Favorite: The Yogurt Man Cometh.  It’s a short and snappy travelogue about one man (from my home state Wisconsin!) who teaches in Turkey and shares his misadventures.  I enjoyed reading the book while in Turkey because I could relate to some of his experiences.  His book also inspired me to be more persistent in blogging regularly.

5) Teen Books

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Favorite: The Fault in Our Stars.  I cried. So much.  Then because I loved the book so much and am an emotional masochist, I immediately went and saw the movie.  And ugly cried some more into my popcorn; the tears upping the salt content; giving me temporary hypertension.  Before reading The Fault in Our Stars, I had a bad taste in my mouth about teen books after the poorly edited, meaningless sack of literary garbage that is The Hunger Games.  The Fault in Our Stars restored my faith in the teen lit genre and hope for the future generation.  It’s a book that’s destined to be a classic.

6) Books written by celebrities that, upon looking back, I’m not sure why I read them

Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Favorite: Neither.  I think I was sucked into exploring this genre while working at BookPeople because these books were flying off the shelf like hotcakes.  Moral of the story: when it comes to bestsellers, the customer is not always right.

7) Classic novels

Little Birds by Anais Nin

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The Secret History by Donna Tratt

Favorite: It’s a tie between A Clockwork Orange and The Secret History.  Both were very disturbing books, but they had strong messages and are guaranteed to haunt you.  The Secret History had well developed characters and was impossible to put down.  A Clockwork Orange is a classic book, but is definitely worth reading.

As a side note, The Wasp Factory is probably one of the most messed up books I’ve ever read.  I finished it in one night and immediately took a long shower afterwards.  It’s not a bad book, it’s actually quite brilliant.  But you will feel like the world is a horrible place afterwards.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

As another side note, I was very disappointed by two books. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was the first.  It’s no fault of Mr. Stevenson though.  It was incredibly well written, but the success of the book depended on the reader not knowing the big punch line.  Everyone today knows that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person, so it ruins the whole book.  The whodunnit question that I’m sure was trailing readers along eagerly over a hundred years ago is now common knowledge.  Poor Mr. Stevenson.

The other book that I may be criticized for hating is Little Women.  All the characters were so annoying.  I thought they were all spoiled, self centered, shallow, and weak.  Jo was the only character with any sort of complexity, but oh boy she learns her place in the end when she finally settles down and adheres to expectations of society.  Furthermore, I found all of the girls’ “problems” to be incredibly petty.  Beth had the best idea, which was to just sorta check out of life before she ended up living as a housewife whose only excitement would be something like her dear husband bringing her silk gloves but she, being humble and pious, would sell them to buy poor children some bread.

8) Sci-fi–Fantasy–Horror

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I can’t choose a favorite from this list, because all these books were amazing, with the exception of Night Circus.  That book was just, meh.  Warm Bodies was a captivating book that was more than just a zombie novel.  The Girl With All the Gifts was enjoyable because the author put a lot of work into making the science behind a zombie apocalypse make sense.  The two zombie books, along with Never Let Me Go were all thought provoking books that asked the question: what does it mean to be human?  The Ocean at the End of the Lane was a bizarre book, but the fantasy elements were successful in supporting the theme of childhood memories.

9) Stephen King

Christine

The Green Mile

Salem’s Lot

It (Currently reading)

Favorite: Christine.  Wow, this book packed a punch.  The character development is phenomenal, the storytelling is perfection.  The last Stephen King book I read was Carrie, and that was years ago.  This book had me hooked from the beginning.  I can see why King is such a successful writer: he adds so much color and flavor to the characters that you can picture them acting the action out in front of you.  He is also a master of slowly building up suspense.  I enjoyed his other books, but Christine especially stands out, I think because of how Arnie changed so drastically in response to Christine.  Right now, I’m reading It and I think this one will come in a close second, if not I’ll like it as much as Christine.

10) Other novels

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

The Goldfinch by Donna Tratt

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Favorite: It’s a tie between Me Before You and The Goldfinch.

Me Before You is a heartbreaking love story, well written and captivating.  The Goldfinch is an epic Dickens style novel that covers years of one boy’s life.  Both were enjoyable reads in their own way.  I’ve heard that some people don’t like The Goldfinch because they were expecting some sort of art history book or something like The Da Vinci Code.  If you’re going to read it, expect to enter a long, but well written novel with great character development.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 52 books this year.  Wow.  And most of the books I’ve read this year I’ve finished between September and now.  In a year, I’ve read at least one book from almost every genre in existence.  Some books haunted me, some scared me, some made me laugh, some made me wrap myself in a blanket and go through a box of tissues, some made me question society, and some shattered my ignorance.  Most importantly, they all took me on adventures and returned me as a person changed.

As Stephen King said: “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

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Innocence by Dean Koontz

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I know I said before that I was done with my Dean Koontz bender. Well, I lied.  For the past few weeks I was wrapping up my phase by listening to this book on tape.  As a side note, if you find yourself spending a lot of time commuting between home and work, I highly recommend books on tape.  They make the drive go by faster and it’s much better than listening to the same five pop songs playing over and over again.

What I’ve come to expect from Dean Koontz is impressive character development, descriptive imagery, and great story telling.  I’ve waited a few days to talk about Innocence because I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to describe my experience with this book.

I’ll start with the general plot: a boy named Addison Goodheart grew up hiding his face from the world because whomever looked upon him reacted with anger and violence.  One night he meets a young woman named Gwenyth who dresses goth and cannot touch anyone.  A friendship begins and  they slowly figure out who they are and what their destiny is.

Pros: character development, suspense.

Cons: The characters got obnoxious after awhile, the ending was cheesey, and things didn’t tie together or make sense in the end.

I’m used to reading Koontz books that seem to have a lot of lose ends, but they always come together i the end.  That didn’t happen in this story.  Honestly, after 11 hours listening to this book, I felt disappointed and robbed of my time.  I went to Amazon reviews and found that I wasn’t alone.   It seems like a lot of other fellow Koontz fans were not happy with this novel.  Koontz was trying something new with this book, but it just wasn’t up to par with his other stories.

It’s possible that part of my dislike of this book comes from what I expected.  Koontz writes suspenseful/horror stories, as well as supernatural tales.  While this book falls into the supernatural category, it took a more fairy-tale like turn.  There was good and evil, a clear line between the two, weird creatures, and a happy ending that seemed to be taken from a pile of rejected Disney scenes.  What bothered me the most is that Koontz failed at tying everything together.  For instance, there are supernatural beings called “fogs” and “clears” and possessed marionettes.  Though there is extensive narrative dedicated to these creatures, we never really find out what they are and what their importance is to the story.  The second thing I didn’t like was the continual flashbacks.  Flashbacks are interesting and needed when they slowly reveal something that will happen in the future of the story.  That didn’t happen in Innocence.  There were a lot of flashbacks about how Addison angered people who saw his face, but after awhile, these tangents got to be monotonous.

I suppose if you aren’t familiar with Koontz’s work and are a fan of easily digestible mass market horror/suspense stories, you will find an entertaining read in Innocence.  I won’t judge you for it.  However, if you consider yourself a Koontz fan, I recommend either skipping this novel for some of his better works, or lowering your expectations considerably.  Also, be prepared to be really disappointed by the ending, unless you enjoy endings that are as cheesey as a Taylor Swift song.

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Velocity by Dean Koontz

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I’m finally starting to ease out of this Dean Koontz binge.  His books are entertaining and well written, but it’s time to move on to other authors.  Well, I’m still listening to another of his books on tape, but that’s it.  In fact, I plan to use my lunch break today to go to the library and pick up some classics.  It’s time to shake things up (again).

I stumbled over this particular book while I was stocking up for an unknown period bereft of the internet.  In the book description, Velocity reminded me of another one of his thrillers, Intensity.  Again, there’s a psycho killer and again the protagonist is trying to catch the bad guy and has certain reasons why going to the police is not an optional solution.  In the case of this novel, the main character is a man named Billy who is a bartender.  One night after leaving work, he finds a handwritten note on his car which says something along the lines of: “If you go to the police, I’ll kill an elder woman.  If you don’t, I’ll kill a pretty young school teacher.  You have twelve hours to decide.”  Of course, Billy ignores the note, thinking it’s a sick prank.  The next day he learns from his police friend that a school teacher had just been murdered.  Thus begins an intense game of cat-and-mouse.  The cryptic notes keep coming, as do various encounters with the killer, who Billy calls “The Freak.”  Again, Koontz pulls you in right away and keeps you guessing until the very end.  After reading several of his novels, it’s still hard to predict how he’s going to wrap up a story. 

Besides the suspense and action, I strangely enjoy reading books about serial killers.  I also am entertained by scary movies of the same theme.  When you are reading a story with a character that has no compassion for human life, you never know what they are capable of.  Because of this, these books are always taking different twists and turns that make you use your brain as you try to predict what will happen next.  If you are like me and have an appreciation for books of this nature, you will not be disappointed by Velocity.

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Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz

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I’ve been on a Dean Koontz bender lately.  Since my router is in the process of being replaced, I am substituting time spent watching Netflix with faced paced thrillers.  This experience has actually been good for me.  I’m reading a lot more now and don’t feel like I’m wasting my nights.  I’ve also been getting out of my apartment more frequently.  When I don’t have Netflix to distract me, I hate being in my apartment.  Thus, I’ve spent evenings in a library or outside at a bar reading by a dim light bulb as I nurse an amber ale.  The background noise of a folksy/hipster band playing is far superior to my roommate yelling at her boyfriend for cheating on her again.

Anyways, I was further inspired to read Sole Survivor, which centers around a plane crash,after all the news on MH370.  There have been a lot of conspiracy theories about what happened to the airplane and the passengers on board. Sole Survivor is about a man who lost his wife and children in a catastrophic plane crash, with no survivors.  One year later, he encounters a woman named Rose who claims to have been on the flight his wife and children died on.  As the novel progresses, you slowly learn why the plane crashed, and why Rose survived.  This book took more of a supernatural/sci-fi turn than the other Koontz books I’ve read so far.  Like his other books though, it hooked me right away and is fast paced.  I’ll admit though that after awhile, I got very frustrated by the lack of information revealed.  After 200 of 300 pages, Koontz revealed the slightest of clues that left me dumbfounded.  By page 250 I was still thinking: “Ok, what the hell is going on?”  I wished the book would have revealed a little bit more slightly earlier on, because I got to a point where I was so frustrated by the lack of reveals, I had to put the book down for awhile and take some deep breaths.

Despite my frustrations with the book, Koontz didn’t let me down.  All was revealed by the end, and like his other novels, there are no lose ends.  In the midst of the MH370 buzz, this is a thought provoking book to read.  I recommend reading it with patience on a night/weekend when you have no other plans.

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Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz

 

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It’s been awhile since I posted to this blog.  I haven’t take a haitus, I’ve just been slowly getting through the latest Game of Thrones book.  As much as I am enjoying the series, I needed a brief respite from dragons and winter zombies.

I spend a lot of time commuting in my vehicle, so I decided I could spend that time in a more productive way than memorizing the lyrics to “Dark Horse” and “Happy.”  Also if I hear either of those songs again I think I’ll smash my radio.  There’s only so much tolerance a person can have for listening to what I call herpes pop songs: they never go away.

Anyways, I changed up my commute experience by listening to Dean Koontz’s Life Expectancy.  I usually like to pride myself on not reading books by “serial writers,” or authors who pop out books faster than people I graduated with are popping out babies.  I avoid such entertainment because usually these books lack in quality and variety.  Most of the time, if you’ve read one book by a serial writer, you’ve read them all (with the exception of the names being changed).  Although Dean Koontz has written many many books, he is different from the other prolific authors today.  His novels vary in theme, setting, and characters.  Last year I read his book Intensity, a heart pounding thriller about a girl chasing after a murderer.  In Life Expectancy, I was introduced to a completely different character, a man named Jimmy Tock who was born with syndactyly and raised by bakers.

Life Expectancy commences on the evening of Jimmy Tock’s birth.  On that night, his grandfather had just suffered a stroke.  Before he passes away, he makes 10 predictions about Jimmy’s life: five pertain to the nature of Jimmy’s birth, and the other five are the dates of “terrible days” Jimmy will experience.  When Jimmy is born, the five predictions about his birth are true.  I’m not going to say anymore about the plot for fear of spoiling it.  You have to pick up the book for yourself and see why it keeps you guessing until the climax.

When you read a book by Dean Koontz, you can expect a story with profound character development, rich imagery, and epic suspense.  I recommend Life Expectancy, and all other Koontz books, for those looking for a quick and entertaining read that is not a brainless beach novel.

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